Those looking for the most authentic home theater experience possible have usually gravitated towards making DLPs their first and logical choice; its not rocket science, as they employ relatively similar hardware for their cinematic taste. But even those wanting to replicate the experience of the multiplex at home don’t mind a little variety in their home entertainment setups now and then, and without question Optoma’s HD20 Home Theater Projector caters to those who prefer the cinematic feel first, but may want to indulge in a little gaming second. True, the HD20 does ring in at a heftier price and removes some features you might find in recent general-purpose projector, but much of it is more than made up for in pure performance. Sizzling HD performance, actually.
Keeping in line with Optoma’s current projectors you’re treated to a similar appearance that’s dipped in a rounded glossy white shell, with grating on the front and sides for ventilation to aid the hardworking fan inside. There are two separate dials for focus attached to the lens and another for zooming on top, which lets you manually adjust the size of the screen up to a massive 300″ without having to physically move the projector. On top are your standard buttons for power, source, and manual menu control. The HD20 also has angle mounting nubs and is fairly lightweight at around 6.8 lbs, making it more travel friendly than I expected, although pretty basic attributes for this family of projectors.
If you’ve read my review for Optoma’s similar GT720 3D GameTime Projector than you’ll know one of my biggest complaints was with its ill-designed remote control. Compared to that jumble of buttons the HD20’s remote is practically a revelation, as pretty much every complaint I had has been rectified with this design and layout that just makes sense. The control arrows do what they’re supposed to without redundancies with clearly marked and commonsense input access and picture options. Even better, the buttons are fully backlit, and the slim design just feels better when navigating through the projector’s array of menus.
Connectivity is all about video connections as there are a total of two HDMI inputs, one composite (yellow) and one component (Y/Pb/Pr) video, VGA (UXGA maximum at 1600×1200), and a USB port for technical servicing are all found on the rear of the unit.
One caveat for potential viewers is the audio/video setup–like many projectors in this class there are no audio inputs or outputs available on this unit, and no real approach to output audio whatsoever. Obviously a separate audio system is needed if you intend to hear whatever sound is accompanying those images, This is actually ordinary for a projector like this and essentially a true component for enthusiasts rather than a simple all-in-one solution for the everyday user.
The HD20 is a good performer if you decide to stick with the available picture preset modes that include Cinema, Bright, Photo, Reference, and User settings. These modes were adequate as ‘Reference’ produced the best immediate picture without terribly oversaturating specific color temperatures (cinema was a bit too reddish), while its brightness and contrast levels displayed images closer to what we’d expect from other displays.
The available presets, while convenient, still lacked that elusive color correction we preferred. Adjusting the stock ‘user’ preset is your best choice as gamma, black/white extension, RGB gain/bias, and noise reduction can be permanently adjusted to your liking–when properly configured we achieved an image that was superior to ‘Reference’ mode; the results were apparent on Blu-ray movies like Wall-E and The Dark Knight where vibrant hues and deeper black levels are paramount.
Other presets such as ‘photo’ and ’bright’ modes produced a less natural or visibly washed-out picture, despite the high ANSI Lumen (lm) count of 1700. That may sound a bit disappointing but it confirms any suspicion that its primarily a DLP for enthusiasts first, as it definitely performed best in appropriately darker areas and probably shouldn’t be used in brighter, day lit rooms.
Though not exactly intended as true ‘gaming’ projector, it was nonetheless excellent for this unit. DLPs are inherently ready-made for the smoothest and most consistent refresh-rates available and its hard not to be impressed when you’re plowing through zombie hordes in Call of Duty: Black Ops or racing through Gran Turismo 5 on ‘screens’ bigger than you’d typically find on other displays. Keep in mind that most of today’s HD gaming consoles output at 720p (the HD20 does 1920×1080 natively), so it goes without saying that the HD20 was more than capable on handling these relatively lower resolutions appropriately.
Standard and enhanced-definition consoles (i.e. Wii/PlayStation 2) displayed their best and brightest with ease, too, as the HD20 did a respectable job of eliminating ‘jaggies’ that are common with those sources. How well the graphics were outputted largely depended on the game and its native resolution, but get one rendered with as much care as Nintendo’s Donkey Kong Country Returns and you’ll be floored–progressive-scan can look great if handled correctly, and the HD20 was certainly up to the task.
First and foremost this is a projector made for theater-like quality, that means HD movies and to an extent on-demand content. Assuming you’re watching through HDMI Blu-rays gave a pleasing cadence of 1080p/24 without having to manually set it ourselves. Performance was incredibly solid, with next to no motion flickering and consistent framerate that are usually reserved for higher-end displays; clearly this is the effect as the directors intended. Even content that was less than ‘Full HD’, such as DVDs or even Netflix streaming, looked good playing through it.
Optoma’s HD20 Home Theater DLP is a marked improvement over its GT720 gaming-centric counterpart, at least for those looking for a true home theater centerpiece. The ability to output in native resolutions means ‘Full HD’ for compatible media, making Blu-ray movies and most HD gaming a thing of beauty on surfaces up to 300″. Its remote glows in the dark and the wide-range of available presets are appealing unless the need for internal audio, daytime viewing, and pricing are absolute prerequisites. It might lack of versatility but for many dedicated specs is probably the trump card, only true videophiles need apply here.
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